Dominican Republic - Corruption
Corruption and the need for reform efforts are openly and widely discussed as key public grievances. In 2015, Transparency International gave the DR a Corruption Perception Index (CPI) score of 33, ranking it 103 of 167 countries assessed. The World Economic Forum’s 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness report ranks the Dominican government’s institutional strength as 98 out of 140 countries (with a score of 3.9 out of 7) and identified corruption as the second most problematic factor for doing business in the Dominican Republic, after high tax rates.
Weak enforcement mechanisms, corruption, and a lack of political will to apply Dominican laws and prosecute criminals - particularly high-level public officials - are the primary barriers to effective investigations. No data are available to assess whether corruption disproportionately affects foreign firms, but both Dominicans and foreign residents in the Dominican Republic encounter the issue routinely. Corruption has the effect of protectionism by giving an “insider” an undue advantage over outsiders (either foreign or domestic).
According to a 2010 Gallup poll, a high percentage of the Dominican population believes that paying a bribe is justified, and there is widespread acceptance of the practice. Dominicans point to low law enforcement salaries as part of the incentive for supplemental, illicit income. Dominicans also have a high tolerance for nepotism, often regarding it as a justified and expected activity of those with power and influence.
President Danilo Medina, who took office in August 2012, has made notable efforts to promote government accountability. Medina eliminated other government privileges such as luxury vehicles and lavish holiday parties. Further, he required all officials in his administration to comply with laws to declare their personal property within a month of being sworn in and when they leave office, although not all officials have complied. Though Medina allowed corruption investigations against two senators and a former Minister of Public Works, no high-profile convictions have been secured since he assumed office.
In 2015, an online video posted by a Dominican National Police officer went viral and generated protests because the officer’s complaints about low wages and corruption struck a chord with many Dominicans. In October 2015, the Supreme Court voted not to indict Senator Felix Bautista and six codefendants on charges that they embezzled more than $4.54 billion Dominican pesos ($100 million USD) when Bautista headed the State Works Supervisory Engineers Office. Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito said the decision was a blow to the fight on corruption and said that the high court “doesn’t deserve the slightest credibility.”
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials but did not secure any convictions against high-level officials. Government corruption remained a serious problem and public grievance.
The Public Ministry, led by the attorney general, was responsible for investigating and prosecuting corruption cases through the Office of the Special Attorney for the Prosecution of Administrative Corruption (PEPCA). The Chamber of Accounts supported government accountability through audits and investigations, which formed the basis of many PEPCA corruption cases. PEPCA, the Chamber of Accounts, and comptroller general operated independently and appeared free from political influence. While government agencies complained of insufficient resources, credible NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to apply the law and prosecute particularly high-level politicians.
Civil society organizations criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage and alleged many civil servants did not have to perform any job functions for their salary. Small municipalities reported having staffs far in excess of what the physical offices could house.
Civil society is actively engaged in anti-corruption campaigns through non-governmental organizations and the media. Several non-governmental organizations are particularly active in transparency and anti-corruption, notably the Foundation for Institutionalization and Justice (FINJUS), Citizen Participation (Participación Ciudadana), and the Dominican Alliance Against Corruption (ADOCCO). Government agencies have limited and often adversarial relationships with civil society organizations, though a notable example of close cooperation was the 2010 Anti-Corruption Participatory Initiative, in which civil society organizations and government institutions conducted public outreach activities and public official training to encourage effective use of the law.
NGOs as well as average citizens regularly report that police officers attempt to solicit bribes during routine traffic stops or arrests. Numerous individuals report having their personal property taken by police. Police reportedly detained drivers, including foreign tourists, and requested money in exchange for release. Local human rights observers reported immigration officials and police officers particularly targeted undocumented immigrants of Haitian descent to extort money by threatening deportation. NGOs reported incidents of corruption among military and immigration officials stationed at border posts and checkpoints.
Prison officials accepted money in exchange for recommendations to release prisoners for health reasons. There were credible allegations that prisoners paid bribes to obtain early release on parole. The government on occasion used nonjudicial sanctions to punish corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police officers, judges, and other minor officials engaged in bribe taking and other corrupt behavior. Widespread acceptance and tolerance of petty corruption, however, hampered anticorruption efforts.
On 08 September 2016, the Supreme Court dismissed the corruption case against former minister of public works Victor Diaz Rua, citing lack of evidence. The Diaz Rua case had been pending for two years after a detailed government audit revealed financial mismanagement and millions of dollars in unauthorized bonuses.
The law requires the president, vice president, members of congress, some agency heads, and other officials, including tax and customs duty collectors, to declare their personal property within 30 days of being hired, elected, or re-elected as well as when they end their responsibilities. The constitution further requires public officials to declare the provenance of their property. The law makes the Chamber of Accounts responsible for receiving and reviewing these declarations. As of October, 1,028 public officials had complied with the law, while another 2,058 had not. Transparency NGOs questioned the veracity of the declarations, as amounts often fluctuated significantly year to year, and total declared assets often appeared unrealistically low.
The Dominican Republic is one of many Latin American countries implicated in the Odebrecht scandal, with 14 of its ministers under investigation for connections to the Brazilian construction conglomerate, allegedly receiving campaign funds and a bouquet of benefits amounting to a whopping US$100 million. The Odebrecht construction company is accused of distributing US$92 million in bribes to obtain 17 contracts for road construction, dams and a thermoelectric plant in the Dominican Republic. One of the main stakeholders reportedly worked as an adviser to two electoral campaigns for Medina.
Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez, a member of the ruling party's central committee, signed an agreement with Odebrecht executives in January 2017 that would allow the company to continue operations in the country and its executives will not be charged in court in exchange for information that would lead to the prosecution of local officials and a US$184 million fine to be paid over a period of eight years.
Thousands of people in the Dominican Republic on 21 May 2017 participated in a massive anti-corruption march held in the southern city of Azua. From the early hours of the morning, dozens of cars arrived in the city, bringing people dressed in green from all across the nation island. The march came as Dominican media reported in March 2017 that consuls in New York and Boston were abruptly replaced after the US State Department refused to accept their credentials because both are US citizens. One corruption watchdog estimates that more than half of Dominican diplomatic appointments do not work in those jobs but still receive government salaries. They are locally known as "botellas vacias," or empty bottles.
In early April 2017, the administration of President Danilo Medina said it would propose a law to modernize the foreign service, although it did not specify what changes would be made. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso said he hoped the law would reduce the payroll. While salaries represent a fraction of the country's US$14 billion in public expenditure, they have become a flashpoint for government waste.
Another corruption scandal also played a major part in the two previous "End Impunity" marches, related to the alleged bribes the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht paid the government to gain access to Dominican contracts. According to documents published on Dec. 21 by the U.S. Justice Department, Odebrecht paid approximately US$788 million in bribes in 12 countries, US$92 million of which was handed out in the Dominican Republic to secure contracts over almost two decades.
In May 2017 Roberto Rodriguez, former director of the national water authority INAPA and 11 other government officials were arrested and brought to court in relation to the bribes the Brazilian construction company gave to state officials in exchange for public works contracts. Named the ‘Green March’, or ‘March of the Million’ nearly that many people mobilized in Santo Domingo on 12 August 2018 demanding justice in the Odebrecht case. In a statement released by the Green March, activists say they want: “citizens to be committed to changing structures in order to once and for all remove criminal politicians and their economic, business and military allies from institutions and from all public spaces of the Dominican pueblo, because criminals belong in jail, not in the state.”
The demonstrators, which represent a wide swath of Dominican society, said that the current administration under president Danilo Medina is protecting previous presidents, Hipolito Mejia (2000-2004) and Leonel Fernandez (1996-2000, 2004-2012). They allege Mejia and Fernandez conducted high-level corruption schemes during their presidential terms. ‘The Green March: For The End of Impunity’ is also demanding that Medina himself be investigated on potential corruption charges.
In their communique, ‘Green March’ representatives said they want all state funds stolen by government officials to be returned, and for all Odebrecht contracts in the Dominican Republic to be repealed, including a US$2 billion Punta Catalina coal station project set to be finished in months.
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